“Original Sin” is actually followed by a cover of “20th Century Fox,” originally performed by the Doors. I’m not a fan of the original song, either, but the cover is surprisingly by-the-numbers and lifeless for a Steinman production sung by Ellen Foley. It’s easy to see why the song appealed to Jim Steinman–the title is a pun about the movie studio and the use of “fox” to mean an attractive person, commenting that Los Angeles/Hollywood is an animal consuming the young and promoting the idea that looks are all that matter. However, other than what statement it makes to make the gender flip, I just don’t find much of interest in the cover.
But then we get the song that Steinman fans will tell anyone foolish enough to be willing to listen to us prattle on is the one that makes Original Sin required listening: “Safe Sex.” It’s often the song that Steinman fans say should have been a hit but wasn’t, and it never got a high-profile cover after this original recording.
The song opens with some electronic keyboards and string sounds on top of probably the most prominent bass line in Steinman’s career. A sort of electronic harpsichord-sounding keyboard then joins in behind lead vocalist Gina Taylor, the bass still prominent but drums quietly behind. A few guitar chords punctuate to give the verses a surprisingly heavy feel. Then the chorus softens back up for a bit before blasting off with everything, especially the drums, suddenly at full blast. A soft bridge breaks it up before we go through the same pattern again. Then we end with about a minute-long music box rendition of the chorus.
The vocals throughout this album are great and “Safe Sex” is no exception. Gina Taylor may be the least well-known of these singers among Steinman fans, but she delivers a powerhouse performance. Rory Dodd doesn’t appear on backing vocals on this song for whatever reason, leaving it to just Rundgren and Troyer, and they are providing their usual vocal wails and melodies everywhere. It’s a loud song, vocally, but they all sound excellent.
I have always really enjoyed the double entendre of the lyrics. Especially for a song released in 1989, “safe sex” has a common meaning, but this song doesn’t get anywhere near that meaning. Instead, it’s a song about the naked, revealing emotionality of sex. In the rather bizarre Jim Steinman Opens Pandora’s Box “interview” (visible on YouTube: part one and part two.), Steinman talks about how sex and love are and always have been emotionally and psychologically dangerous and was always able to kill, even if people have only become aware of that deadly ability recently. That’s what “Safe Sex” is about. The singer is an experienced woman who isn’t falling for the fairy tale of “meaningless” sex, because she already understands the vulnerability inherent within it. It’s not an incredibly complex message, but it’s a thoughtful one nonetheless.
The chorus to “Safe Sex” is one of the best, most memorable hooks in Steinman’s canon, and the booming drums and guitar chords add even more to it. The lyrics are great. The vocals are fantastic. It’s one of the best examples of his work you can ever hear. It’s too bad that it isn’t heard more, because it really is a masterpiece.
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